Touch and Be Touched

I hate to play into the stereotype, but as a girl, I go through toiletries and makeup like no one’s business. During my repeated trips to Target and Walgreens, I always browse the aisles and stare are the different products, my eyes usually wandering towards the bright and shiny things. During move-in weekend, I took a trip to Target with my mother to buy everything I needed for my dorm. Although it was busy, I took my time in the toiletry aisle, sniffing every body wash possible until my nose settled on one by Nivea.

It wasn’t until a week later that I realized what I had bought.

I – like every other human I know – ponder random things during my shower. So, one night, I started examining my usual shower products, including my Nivea bottle. “Touch of Happiness?” What in the world does that mean? Baffled, I decided to look up Nivea’s products (you know, after I got out of the shower and all). This is what I came across:

What does a tall, thin, beautiful brunette seductively rubbing her body have to do with soap…? Similarly, why is the name of my soap “Touch of Happiness?” The way things are marketed is a tactic for the superficial eye to be drawn in. Little do we know, this can actually harm our society.

In “Theoretical perspectives,” Steven Seidman discusses Marxism, also known as the economics of sexuality. Marx argued that our sexuality, which is part of human nature, is molded by society and has the ability to change over time. In his article, Seidman states, “Marxists argue that the economy is most important social force shaping human behavior. Consider the way a capitalist economy shapes sexuality. Capitalism is oriented toward profit and economic growth” (NSS 5). Furthermore, in the nineteenth century, sex was only socially acceptable if it was within a marriage. Therefore, sex that was done for pleasure, autoerotic sex, sex out of wedlock, nonheterosexual sex, nongenital sex, and sex in public were “wrong” and viewed as deviant (NSS 6).

These varied types of sex and sexuality conflicted capitalist views: capitalism was all about discipline and strict patterns. Business owners who have a Marxist perspective want to sell their items. So, because sex is associated with pleasure or as an authentic form of self-expression, then it can be used for marketing. Sex sells.

In an article posted on UGA Today (University of Georgia Today), April Reese Sorrow interviews Tom Reichert, professor and head of the department of advertising and public relations in the UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, and discusses the famous line “sex sells.” In his interview, Reichert states the following:

“‘Sex sells because it attracts attention. People are hard wired to notice sexually relevant information so ads with sexual content get noticed. Some young men actually think Axe body spray will drive women crazy. But, brand impressions are shaped by images in advertising, too. Arguable, Calvin Klein and Victoria’s Secret are not much different than Hanes or Vassarette, but perception studies show those brands are perceived as ‘sexy,’ and some customers want that.'”

There are so many products that are advertised in a seductive way just so companies can make a profit. Nina Bahadur, a writer for the The Huffington Post, wrote an article entitled “7 Ridiculously Sexual Ads For Totally Unsexy Things.” In this article, she includes 7 YouTube clips of commercials or ads that are unbelievably – and unnecessarily – sexual. You can watch them here:

Unfortunately, Reichert and Bahadur aren’t wrong. People are superficial in the sense that they gravitate towards what they find interesting or eye-catching. This doesn’t only happen with products — it happens with people, too. In an article posted on The Independent, James Legge discusses how women are more likely to receive job offers if they are attractive, based on a study conducted at the University of Messina. With the results, Legge concluded the following:

“What the study found was that attractiveness played a big part in the likelihood of making the second stage of the recruitment process, and a suggestion that attractiveness was playing a much bigger part in women’s job prospects than men. The average callback rate for all of the CVs was 30 per cent. But attractive women were called back 54 per cent of the time, and attractive men 47 per cent. Most notably, unattractive women only had a 7 per cent callback rate, while unattractive men had a 26 per cent rate.”

But, should sex be sold? Yes, creating seductive commercials, magazine covers, and sometimes labels can catch attention and generate money for companies, but is it worth it? Furthermore, is it morally acceptable for men and women to be hired over another person because of their attractiveness? The concept of “sex sells” is corrupting our society and making people become (more) subconsciously superficial.

Readers, do you think it is appropriate for marketers to use sex to sell products? If so, is it acceptable for all products or just some? Similarly, have you ever noticed these seductive advertisements while shopping or watching TV? Do you find that there is a stigma associated with one gender but not the other regarding these advertisements (i.e. Playboy vs GQ; Victoria’s Secret vs. Abercrombie)?

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